Mega-influential drummer extraordinaire Dave “The Master” Witte is the reason I drink good beer. By providing me with the “gateway” brew from Portland’s Hair of the Dog many moons ago, he introduced me to a new hobby, an obsession paralleled only by my geekiness for extreme music. A few years back, Witte and I met up in Denver to experience the annual Great American Beer Festival for the first time. This is the largest domestic brewers’ gathering in the contiguous States, and our hop-and-barley-infused weekend was deftly chronicled in these very pages by resident extreme beer expert Adem Tepedelen. In October 2014, Witte and I revisited this scene of the crime. GABF. Over 700 breweries. Over 3,500 beers. I didn’t care that my shitbag motel had bloodstains in the corridor. I was ready for beering, and violent Denver meth heads were not about to impede my progress. Thursday through Saturday, we attended all four tasting sessions at the Convention Center, aptly located at the end of Stout St. The throngs of 15,000 beer nerds for each session swelled like a crazed horde at a Slayer show, except everyone was sporting beards and Pliny the Elder gear instead of long hair and pentagrams.
And yet, this was the most metal-tinged of all beer gatherings I’ve attended. At every turn, Witte was stopped by fans. Throughout the weekend, random brewers and attendees alike stopped to shake his hand and praise his musical acumen. Even at a GABF press junket luncheon on the swanky 38th floor of the Hyatt in a room full of laminate-dangling, douchey “real” journalists, Witte ran into admirers. As a master of the skins as well as the suds, this man’s garnered attention is well-earned and thoroughly deserved.
Keeping the weekend inherently evil, Three Floyds and Surly Brewing co-sponsored the most crushing show I witnessed all year. Primitive Man took the stage early, and their downtuned, sludge-laden tunes were delivered with the subtlety of a 16 megaton weight. The messianic Eyehategod headlined and flattened me with the girth of their set, while predictably touting the virtues of cheap Pabst over frou frou IPAs.
However, the most purely metal moments of the weekend had nothing to do with GABF. TRVE Brewing is located in the heart of Denver, and this unabashedly Satanic beer coven didn’t even participate in the convention. I visited TRVE the first time with a cavalcade of dorky “normal” press folks on a junket bus tour. Needless to say, I felt like a clown walking into the coolest brewer in the country with 50 people who didn’t understand the reference in the name of TRVE’s Stout O))). Black walls, burning candles, goat heads, a plethora of pentagrams, and excellent beer, TRVE is not for the weak of heart nor palate.
The only bummer of this four -day excursion into fermented debauchery was the conspicuous absence of Mr. Tepedelen. In his honor, I sought out the most extreme beers of GABF, and most notably enjoyed the fantastically abusive El Toro Brewing Ghost Chili Golden Ale, and several from Michigan’s Right Brain Brewing, including their earthy farmhouse ale the Schrute Farms Beet Saison, and oddest one of all, the Spear Beer, a surprisingly drinkable asparagus brew.
Unlike my comrades in EHG, I’m a thoroughbred amongst beer nerds, and this weekend I had my own extreme goals in mind. I pushed myself aggressively to see how many different beers I could sample in four days. Final count: 263. This Bacchanalian excess finally hit me hard on Saturday night, even prompting TRVE head honcho, the ironically named Nick Nunns, to ask, “Dude, are you going to make it?” Somehow, I did survive the Beer Disneyland of Denver, bloated and tired, and without throwing up anything but The Horns.